Austria has stepped up controls at its eastern border and the Hungarian ambassador in Vienna has been called in over a recent government decree ordering the release of people smugglers, news portal Mandiner reports.
Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyás told a government news conference on May 11 that a new government decree would free people smugglers held in Hungarian prisons. The condition is that the released smugglers must leave Hungary within 72 hours, MTI reported.
Gulyás said that it was the right decision not to spend Hungarian taxpayers’ money to detain the hundreds of people smugglers who are now “enjoying Hungarian prison care.”
There are currently 2,600 people in Hungarian prisons for human trafficking, most of them foreigners, according to news portal 24.hu. According to Gulyás, it is too expensive to detain foreign convicts and prisons are overcrowded anyway. Foreigners make up more than 13 percent of the prison population in Hungarian prisons.
In reaction to this development, Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner instructed his ministry to contact Hungarian counterparts without delay and prepare the necessary countermeasures.
According to a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry, “human traffickers are criminals who belong to organized crime. Their brutal actions endanger human lives.”
On Monday morning, there were reports that Austria had tightened controls at its eastern border due to the release of people smugglers in Hungary, making the crossing into Austria a procedure that takes almost one and a half hours.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg protested the move on Monday.
“We think this is a completely wrong signal,” he said, adding that he would demand a full clarification from Hungary on the matter.
Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said on Monday that this is a sovereign Hungarian decision, which is not directed against any neighboring country. According to Szijjártó, Hungary’s position remains unchanged: Illegal migration is considered extremely dangerous, and therefore, the country will continue to take the strictest action against illegal immigrants and the people smugglers who aid and abet or transport them.